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‘Jersey Boys’ Shines

2009 June 2

The national touring company’s productiona Apr09 Finale-2 of “Jersey Boys,” now playing at The Fox Theatre, is one of the best shows I’ve seen in years.

Now I know a lot of musicals are corny—”Mama Mia!” comes to mind—but this isn’t one of them. This is a story about a dream to bust out of a poor neighborhood and rise to the top in the music business.

“Jersey Boys,” winner of four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, lets you peer into the lives of a few hoodlums from a tough neighborhood in New Jersey in the 1960s. Along the way, we meet Joe Pesci—yes, that Joe Pesci—who helps the roughnecks put a band together and names it the Four Seasons. We watch as the group plays dives around New Jersey, until it finally meets its match when it partners with songwriter Bob Guadio, then a one-hit wonder for Who Wears Short Shorts? For Frankie Valli, the nearly four-octave singer who sometimes sounds like a woman, he writes Sherry, which catapults the band to Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” launching the song to the No. 1 spot on the charts. While many other Top-40 hits follow and many millions of records are sold, the band members struggle through personal and professional ups and downs, including stints in prison, divorces, the loss of their fortunes, the death of a child, and for some, a fall back to the blue-collar life.

The script, written by Woody Allen collaborator Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, a former advertising man, is scintillating and witty. The music is so spectacular that I was sure part of it had been a recording of the original band. I checked and it’s not. Joseph Leo Bwarie, who plays Frankie and played him in the original Las Vegas cast, has a voice range that extends from tenor to soprano, and when he sings the sound stems straight from his heart. He sang the most beautiful rendition of the jazz standard “There I Go Again” I’ve ever heard. If Frankie Valli ever looked and sounded as good as Bwarie, I know why ladies swooned.

“Jersey Boys” plays through June 21 at The Fox.

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